Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) are a known priority for the defence sector due to the threats which it faces. The National Security Capability Review in March 2018 identified one of the Tier One threats as espionage, and particularly cyber crime.
“ Malicious cyber activity knows no international boundaries and has grown in terms of intensity, complexity and severity over the course of the last year. There are several established and capable states that seek to target and exploit UK networks and devices to gather intelligence or intellectual property.”
Espionage in the Defence & Security sectors
The defence community faces significant challenges. Ongoing operations, severely constrained budgets and the need for radical performance improvement in acquisition and programme management are currently driving defence agendas around the world.
“The UK is a high priority espionage target and a number of countries are actively seeking UK information and material to advance their own military, technological, political and economic programmes.” Source: Ministry of Defence
The Government is currently operating a £1.9 billion cyber security budget for 2016-2021, addressing the growing threat of cyber-attacks and highlighting the threat faced from espionage. But is this current preoccupation with cyber espionage leaving our defence interests vulnerable to the more traditional espionage threats?
Traditional Espionage Techniques Used to Facilitate Cyber Attacks
What is important to understand is that all too often, traditional espionage techniques are being utilised to facilitate many of the cyber-attacks we are reading about in today’s news. Illegal intelligence gathering via illicit surveillance devices or through the retrieval of documents from rubbish bins from example can yield an incredible amount of sensitive information that can then be used to implement a cyber-attack. And the recruitment of a mole, deployed to steal information often totally undetected, has been widely reported throughout history.
Traditionally, espionage was the way in which spies acquired an enemy’s military secrets and this still appears to be the case. In 2010, 11 Chinese espionage cases were prosecuted in the United States. Ten of the 11 cases involved technology acquisition, and five were overt attempts to purchase and illegally export encryption devices, mobile-phone components, high-end analogue-to-digital converters, microchips designed for aerospace applications and radiation-hardened semiconductors. Xian Hongwei and someone known as “Li Li” were arrested in September 2010 for allegedly attempting to purchase those aerospace-related microchips from BAE Systems, which is one of the companies involved in the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It has also been reported that former Eurocopter executive “Werner G.” allegedly met with a Russian SVR intelligence agent several times between 2004 and 2006 in Germany, Austria and Croatia, handing over unclassified technical manuals, files and CD-ROMs in exchange for EUR 13,000.
For the defence sector it has meant the need to address issues relating to espionage at board level and as part of the business resilience and continuity strategy. Esoteric’s extensive experience in providing strategic board-level support to global organisations has helped many of our defence and security industry clients to realise the value of having peace of mind in outsourcing their business resilience planning to Esoteric.
Live TSCM Monitoring for Global Defence Organisation
A global defence organisation regularly undertookat its company premises as well as at major International Air Shows where client negotiation and entertaining took place on a regular basis. At one International Air Show in particular, the organisation invited a limited number of media representatives to attend a press announcement. The representatives were given strict instructions how and when the information should be released into the public domain. However, during the meeting a journalist was found to be recording and transmitting the content of the meeting via an audio device.
Due to the sensitivity of information discussed and negotiations that took place at these events, Esoteric proposed that live monitoring of all meetings and press announcements should be undertaken to ensure that sensitive commercial information was not being listened into or transmitted illicitly. Esoteric TSCM engineers would be positioned in an adjacent room to observe the signal activity in the meeting to ensure that any transmission of information could be identified and stopped before confidential information was released.
In this particular incident there was no known loss of revenue to the business, however, if an inspection with monitoring had not been carried out then it is likely that either a loss of revenue or reputational damage to the company could have ensued. The organisation has since increased the scope of their electronic sweeping services and live monitoring of all meetings is carried out at International Air Shows as per Esoteric’s recommendations, affording the organisation peace of mind during these highly commercially-sensitive events.